Here’s why Lorrie Moore is a genius. The following is from early on in “Willing,” the first story in her 1998 collection Birds of America:

One of the problems with people in Chicago, she remembered, was that they were never lonely at the same time. Their sadnesses occurred in isolation, lurched and spazzed, sent them spinning fizzily back into empty, padded corners, disconnected and alone.

It’s a ballsy pair of sentences—that’s the first thing you notice. Moore is a phenomenal sentence-constructor, and these are two fine examples.

But the real reason Moore is a genius might take a few re-readings to figure out. It comes down to one particular word in that second sentence: “spazzed.” That word sticks out, doesn’t it? It’s not awkward, exactly, but you do trip on it for a second.

Spazzed is so distinctive, in fact, that its particular cadence stays with you as you keep reading—and that’s important, because its components are about to re-appear hidden inside a bunch of different words. “Spinning,” “fizzily,” and “padded”. Moore has taken the key word of the sentence and split its parts into isolation from one another. And, don’t forget, the sentence is itself about feeling lonely and cut-off from others like you. Form and content align here like an eclipse.

And that’s why Lorrie Moore is a genius.

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